“It’s easier to care for the community, once you’ve taken care of yourself,” says The Community Roundtable, a membership organization for the online community industry. Although this advice can definitely apply to the association profession, they were sharing a new e-book full of self-care advice from and for community managers.
Self-care is a popular topic these days. Countless articles and Instagram stories have been published about improving your wellbeing through exercise and sleep—or red wine and candle-lit baths. Seriously though, wellbeing is no joking matter. In many professions, mental health and wellbeing are troubling issues.
While researching association resources for students and recent graduates, I came upon the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) website, My Veterinary Life, and its wellbeing web pages for three different membership segments: students, new veterinarians, and rising professionals.
AVMA is not the only association that’s spotted this pressing need. Many associations now offer self-care and wellbeing education and resources to their members and the wider professional community.
Why the pervasive need for self-care and wellbeing education?
Workplace stress and mental health is the number one cause of absence in the public relations (PR) industry, per a study commissioned by the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA). The main stressors for PR professionals are demands from clients, deadlines, and unclear expectations.
Every profession has its stressors. Do your members deal with any of these?
• Tight budgets
• Long hours
• Always-on technology
• Organizational change
• Toxic work environments and/or co-workers
The office isn’t the only source of stress. When they go home, members might deal with:
• Social media
• 24/7 news cycle and partisan bickering
• Long commutes
• Insufficient sleep
• Self-medication (alcohol and drugs)
We’ve discussed loneliness in these pages before. It only exacerbates stressful situations. The findings of the world’s largest loneliness study, the BBC’s Loneliness Experiment, are depressing but mandatory reading, as is this article from The Guardian about the “agony of weekend loneliness.”
And here’s one more interesting statistic about the typical member demographic: “An economist analyzed wellbeing across 132 countries and found that unhappiness peaks at midlife around 47.2 years old… it’s when pressure and anxiety from work and family hit their highest point, after which they begin to abate.”
When a growing number of industry professionals suffer from stress and high rates of depression and substance use, it’s an indication of deeper problems within the profession that must be identified and fixed. These issues are not only threats to physical and mental health, but they’re also threats to the sustainability of the profession and the association.
What happens when young people choose not to enter a profession because of its demands on a healthy lifestyle?
What happens when members can’t spare time or energy outside work for volunteer leadership?
Examples of association wellbeing programs
An industry study revealed that only half the veterinarians with serious psychological distress seek help. In response, AVMA developed these wellbeing resources:
• Toolkit, developed by an AVMA future leaders group, for setting up a workplace wellbeing program.
• Online Workplace Wellbeing Certificate Program: five modules earning four hours of CE credits. Supported by a corporate grant, the program is free to AVMA and student AVMA members. Co-workers of members pay a small fee.
• Professional Quality of Life self-assessment, a starting point to creating a self-care plan.
• Webinars and training programs.
• Annual summit focused on wellness and wellbeing, organized in partnership with a sponsor and another association.
The American Medical Association’s (AMA) STEPS Forward program offers nine online educational modules on professional wellbeing, with a focus on understanding and addressing burnout as well as developing a culture that supports wellbeing.
The American College of Surgeons developed the Physician Well-Being Index, an anonymous screening tool that recommends local and national resources based on user results.
A few other medical/dental association wellbeing programs to check out are:
• AWARE Well-Being Resources from the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education include an app, video workshop, and podcasts.
• The Association of Anaesthetists hosts a Wellbeing & Support web page.
• The American Student Dental Association offers free, on-demand webinars on topics such as tools for stress management; conquering criticism through self-compassion; overcoming stress, burnout and depression; balancing relationship wellness and dental school; and substance misuse in dental school.
After industry research revealed the extent of problematic drinking, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts in the legal profession, the American Bar Association (ABA) established the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. The task force, which includes representatives from groups within and outside the ABA, has overseen the development of wellbeing resources including:
• Wellbeing toolkit for lawyers and legal employers
• Podcast series
• Bar journal articles
• Social media and public awareness campaigns
• Well-Being Pledge for legal employers
Your association’s role in solving your industry’s wellbeing crisis
Does your industry or profession have a wellbeing problem? What percentage of industry professionals are burnt out, stressed, depressed, anxious, suicidal, or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol? Anecdotal evidence provides a clue but the only way to know for sure is to ask via a third-party survey that guarantees anonymity.
ABA learned through its research that 12 to 28% of respondents experienced one of those problems. An ad hoc discussion about the results led to the formation of its task force and the programs the ABA and state bar associations offer today.
As a leader of the industry, your association has an important role to play by:
• Shining a light on the issue and leading industry discussions.
• Helping to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking help.
• Educating people so they know when to seek help or how to spot employees or colleagues who need help.
• Teaching employers how to create working conditions that lessen the likelihood of wellbeing issues developing.
• Providing resources to assist those in need.
Association also serve another purpose: providing a community where people can experience a sense of belonging, peer support, and purpose.
Self-care and wellbeing education and resources can serve three audiences:
• Struggling members and professionals
• Colleagues of those who are struggling
Ideally, the programs and resources you offer will be free for members since you don’t want to create barriers to participation. These programs act as lead generators for other programs since participants will become familiar with your website and LMS. If your association’s limited resources are an issue, consider partnering with a corporate sponsor or another organization.
Self-care and wellbeing programs are well within an association’s scope. Helping to create sustainable workplaces and healthy, thriving professionals strengthens your industry or profession, and deepens your volunteer leadership bench.